I-TEAM: DHEC emails confirm non-approved chemical in public water systems outside of Denmark

Denmark's water supply has been the subject of controversy. (Source: WRDW)
Denmark's water supply has been the subject of controversy. (Source: WRDW)(WRDW)
Published: Nov. 14, 2019 at 12:18 PM EST
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Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019

News 12 at 6 O’Clock

DENMARK, SC (WRDW/WAGT) -- Families unknowingly drank water tainted with a non-EPA approved chemical for nearly a decade in Denmark, South Carolina.

The state Department of Health and Environmental Control approved the use of the chemical.

Two lawsuits are pending and the federal government are investigating because of it.

We obtained these emails through a Freedom of Information Act request. It took us 10 months to get it.

But inside those 10 pages is information that shows Denmark isn't the only community in South Carolina exposed to this chemical.

Folks in Denmark have been getting their water from a truck for nearly a year now.

Most people here don’t trust what’s coming out of their faucets or anything coming from the government.

Families suspected something was wrong with their water for years. Their fear became reality a year ago.

"Ten years we've been telling people about this bad water,” one resident said. “Now I look around and see everybody is paying attention now."

Citizens filed lawsuits after learning DHEC allowed the city to inject a non-EPA approved chemical in their drinking water. Halosan is usually used to disinfect pools. Denmark is the only city in the US we know of to use it in drinking water – until now.

Deanna Berry lives in Denmark and is an advocate for clean water.

Our I-Team filed a Freedom of Information Act request for emails between South Carolina’s DHEC and its North Carolina equivalent.

In it are emails from 2016 where North Carolina asks South Carolina about Halosan. North Carolina shares their concerns about using it.

South Carolina does not share the same concerns and emails back saying, "We actually have several in use within the state on public systems and probably dozens in private wells."

"First off, what other cities? No. 2, there are other families who are like the other families like I am dealing with right here,” Berry said, holding back tears. “This is such a serious issue."

We filed another open records request. We asked DHEC for a list of all public water systems in South Carolina that use or have used Halosan.

Here's what they gave they us: Scollon Productions, a business in Richland County and Saluda River Resort, a campground in Newberry County. DHEC told us they don't have information about the use of Halosan with private wells.

"I am furious,” Berry said. “DHEC has to answer to every South Carolinian."

We asked DHEC for an interview -- twice. They told us they did not have anyone available despite us saying we could work around their schedule.

DHEC did talk to us over the phone this past February.

“We did not drop the ball,” a DHEC representative said.

But it appears DHEC did more than drop the ball. When questioned in 2018 about who recommended the use of Halosan, a DHEC representative said they didn’t really know.

But they did know. DHEC’s email to North Carolina continues: "The makers [of Halosan] came to us about 10-15 yrs ago and presented it to us as a way to address and control Iron bacteria in the well casing. It has since been used."

It’s enough to send activists like Berry into a furor.

“Look, enough of hiding behind the curtains,” Berry said. “If you did wrong, just admit you did wrong.”

The EPA opened an investigation earlier this year. It’s still unclear of the long-term health impacts of Halosan in drinking water.

Copyright 2019 WRDW/WAGT. All rights reserved.

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